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A 15-year-old’s prom picture was altered into AI-created nudes

The teen says she was among about 30 victims at her high school in Richmond, Illinois.
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Posted at 5:45 PM, May 22, 2024

Stevie Hyder, 15, lives in Richmond, Illinois, a town of about 2,000 people, and prom is always a big end-of-the-year event.

Stevie was proud of her dress and how she looked in it in April 2023. However, nearly a year later, her prom picture re-emerged, digitally altered into AI-created nudes.

Stevie and her mother Stephanie Essex said that around 30 high school girls from Richmond-Burton Community High School were the subjects of what the principal called "sensitive images" that were created and circulated on a computer.

"They were photos taken off of our Instagrams and Snapchats that were turned into AI nudes," Stevie said.

The school's principal, Mike Baird, emailed parents in March, saying that they were working with the Richmond Police Department on a "thorough investigation" of the incident.

Baird declined to comment, citing the involvement of minors.

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Ultimately, the McHenry County state's attorney's office confirmed to Scripps News that two unnamed minors were arrested in late April in relation to the Richmond-Burton Community High School case. Both suspects face child pornography charges, with one of them facing 17 counts. They were also both charged with several counts of distribution of harmful material to a minor.

"You know, we hunted for that dress and paid a lot of money for that dress. And she looked gorgeous in that dress. And the fact that somebody took that away from her and made a picture that she otherwise had been really super proud of, difficult to look at," said Essex. "It's just, it's pretty gross, you know? It's pretty heartbreaking as a mom."

Stevie and her mother said they were both unaware of the term "deepfakes" before this incident, and they're not alone.

Professor Gabriella Waters is an AI expert and researcher at Morgan State University. She explained to Scripps News how this technology works.

"AI are trained on data, and most of these AI have been trained on images," Waters said. "So imagine you're an artist, and you started trying to copy the Mona Lisa. So the first few years of your life, you're not going to be really good at it. But if you keep doing that diligently for 20 years, 30 years, you're going to be really good at it. So imagine that the machine has trained over and over and over without sleeping, without taking a break. That's why now it can just produce."

To show how these apps work, Scripps News used artificial intelligence to create a photo of a woman. We then took the AI-generated photo and ran it through one of the most popular AI apps used to "undress" subjects. It took just a few seconds.

With AI tools proliferating at a fast and cheap rate, these cases are arising around the country. Scripps News discovered instances of deepfake nude images at schools from Beverly Hills, California, to Westfield, New Jersey.

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These alarming incidents have caught the attention of lawmakers.

New York Congressman Joe Morelle wrote a federal bill banning nonconsensual deepfake nude images.

"It can do tremendous, tremendous damage," Morelle said of these deepfake depictions. "And you know, even for people who know that the image is fake and false, again, it's hard to unsee it."

Morelle's bill makes it illegal to release "intimate digital depictions" of someone without their consent. Consequences could include jail time, punitive damages and upwards of $150,000 in civil damages.

The bill was introduced in May 2023, but there hasn't been any movement on it since. When asked why, Morelle responded that Scripps News would have to ask the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Congressman Jim Jordan. Scripps News reached out to Jordan, but he did not return our request for comment.

Back in Illinois, Stevie works her after-school job at the local dog day care and says almost everyone in their small community has been supportive of her decision to speak out publicly about what happened.

For Stevie, it was about taking the power back.

"I just really don't want those photos coming back to haunt me. Especially for, like, college applications and future job opportunities," Stevie said. "I don't want those getting out and being sent to future employers and possibly ruining opportunities for me in the future."